Book size

The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover.[2] A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from folio (the largest), to quarto (smaller) and octavo (still smaller). Historically, these terms referred to the format of the book, a technical term used by printers and bibliographers to indicate the size of a leaf in terms of the size of the original sheet. For example, a quarto (from Latin quartō, ablative form of quartus, fourth[3]) historically was a book printed on a sheet of paper folded twice to produce four leaves (or eight pages), each leaf one fourth the size of the original sheet printed. Because the actual format of many modern books cannot be determined from examination of the books, bibliographers may not use these terms in scholarly descriptions.

Book formats

In the hand press period (up to about 1820) books were manufactured by printing text on both sides of a full sheet of paper and then folding the paper one or more times into a group of leaves or gathering. The binder would sew the gatherings (sometimes also called signatures) through their inner hinges and attached to cords in the spine to form the book block. Before the covers were bound to the book, the block of text pages was sometimes trimmed along the three unbound edges to open the folds of the paper and to produce smooth edges for the book. When the leaves were not trimmed, the reader would have to cut open the leaf edges using a knife.

Books made by printing two pages of text on each side of a sheet of paper, which is then folded once to form two leaves or four pages, are referred to as folios (from Latin, foliō, ablative of folium, leaf[3]). Those made by printing four text pages on each side of a sheet of paper and folding the paper twice to form a gathering containing four leaves or eight pages are called quartos (fourths). Similarly, books made by printing eight pages of text on each side of a sheet, which was then folded three times to form gatherings of eight leaves or sixteen pages each, are called octavos. The size of the resulting pages in these cases depends, of course, on the size of the full sheet used to print them and how much the leaves were trimmed before binding, but where the same size paper is used, folios are the largest, followed by quartos and then octavos.[4]:80–81 The proportion of leaves of quartos tends to be squarer than that of folios or octavos.[5]:164

These various production methods are referred to as the format of the book. These terms are often abbreviated, using 4to for quarto, 8vo for octavo, and so on. The octavo format, with eight leaves per gathering, has half the page size of the quarto format before trimming. Smaller formats include the duodecimo (12mo or twelvemo), with twelve leaves per sheet and pages one-third the size of the quarto format, and the sextodecimo (16mo or sixteenmo), with sixteen leaves per sheet, half the size of the octavo format and one quarter the size of the quarto. The vast majority of books were printed in the folio, quarto, octavo or duodecimo formats.[4]:82

There are many variations in how such books were produced. For example, folios were rarely made by simply binding up a group of two leaf gatherings; instead several printed leaf pairs would be inserted within another, to produce a larger gathering of multiple leaves that would be more convenient for binding.[5]:30–31 For example, three two-leaf printed sheets might be inserted in a fourth, producing gatherings of eight leaves or sixteen pages each. Bibliographers still refer to such books as folios (and not octavos) because the original full sheets were folded once to produce two leaves, and describe such gatherings as folios in 8s. Similarly, a book printed as an octavo, but bound with gatherings of four leaves each, is called an octavo in 4s.[5]:28

In determining the format of a book, bibliographers will study the number of leaves in a gathering, their proportion and sizes and also the arrangement of the chain lines and watermarks in the paper.[4]:84–107

In order for the pages to come out in the correct order, the printers would have to properly lay out the pages of type in the printing press. For example, to print two leaves in folio containing pages 1 through 4, the printer would print pages 1 and 4 on one side of the sheet and, after that has dried, print pages 2 and 3 on the other side. If a printer was printing a folio in 8s, as described above, he would have to print pages 1 and 16 on one side of a leaf with pages 2 and 15 on the other side of that leaf, etc. The arrangement of the pages of type in the press is referred to as the imposition and there are a number of methods of imposing pages for the various formats, some of which involve cutting the printed pages before binding.[4]:80–110

See Further reading for more on imposition schemes.

Modern book production

As printing and paper technology developed, it became possible to produce and to print on much larger sheets or rolls of paper and it may not be apparent (or even possible to determine) from examination of a modern book how the paper was folded to produce them. For example, a modern novel may consist of gatherings of sixteen leaves, but may actually have been printed with sixty-four pages on each side of a very large sheet of paper.[6]:429 Similarly, the actual printing format cannot be determined for books that are perfect bound, where every leaf in the book is completely cut out (i.e., not conjugate to another leaf as in gatherings) and is glued into the spine. Modern books are commonly called folio, quarto and octavo based simply on their size rather than the format in which they were actually produced, if that can even be determined. Scholarly bibliographers may describe such books based on the number of leaves in each gathering (eight leaves per gathering forming an octavo), even where the actual number of pages printed on the original sheet is unknown[4]:80–81 or may reject the use of these terms for modern books entirely.[note 1]

Today, octavo and quarto are the most common book sizes, but many books are produced in larger and smaller sizes as well. Other terms for book size have developed, an elephant folio being up to 23 inches tall, an atlas folio 25 inches, and a double elephant folio 50 inches tall.


Largest book

According to the 2003 Guinness World Records, the largest book in the world was Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom by Michael Hawley. Its size is 1.5 m × 2.1 m (4.9 ft × 6.9 ft).[7]

According to the 2007 Guinness World Records, the largest published book in the world was The Little Prince printed in Brazil in 2007. Its size is 2 m × 3.1 m (6.6 ft × 10.2 ft).[8]

According to the 2012 Guinness World Records, the largest book in the world was This the Prophet Mohamed made in Dubai, UAE. Its size is 5 m × 8 m (16 ft × 26 ft).[9] Though larger than The Little Prince, the two hold separate records, as This the Prophet Mohamed was not published.

Smallest book

The smallest book is Teeny Ted from Turnip Town measured 0.07 mm × 0.10 mm (0.0028 in × 0.0039 in).[10]

Largest manuscript

The largest surviving medieval manuscript is the Codex Gigas or 'Devil's Manuscript', measured at 92 cm tall by 50 cm wide (36 inches tall by 20 inches wide).

Paper sizes

During the hand press period, full sheets of paper were manufactured in a great variety of sizes which were given a number of names, such as pot, demy, foolscap, crown, etc.[11][12] These were not standardized and the actual sizes varied depending on the country of manufacture and date.[4]:67–70, 73–75

The size and proportions of a book will thus depend on the size of the original sheet of paper used in producing the book. For example, if a sheet 19 inches (480 mm) by 25 inches (640 mm) is used to print a quarto, the resulting book will be approximately 12 12 inches (320 mm) tall and 9 12 inches (240 mm) wide, before trimming. Because the size of paper used has differed over the years and localities, the sizes of books of the same format will also differ. A typical octavo printed in Italy or France in the 16th century thus is roughly the size of a modern mass market paperback book, but an English 18th-century octavo is noticeably larger, more like a modern trade paperback or hardcover novel.

Common formats and sizes

United States

The following table is adapted from the scale of the American Library Association,[1][13] in which size refers to the dimensions of the cover (trimmed pages will be somewhat smaller, often by about 14 inch or 5 mm[2]). The words before octavo signify the traditional names for unfolded paper sheet sizes. Other dimensions may exist as well.[12][14] US Trade size corresponds with octavo and is popular for hardbacks. Mass market paperback corresponds with duodecimo.

Book formats and corresponding sizes
NameAbbreviationsLeavesPagesApproximate cover size (width × height)
folioor fo2412 × 1930.5 × 48
quartoor 4to489 12 × 1224 × 30.5
Imperial octavoor 8vo8168 14 × 11 1221 × 29
Super octavoor 8vo8167 × 1118 × 28
Royal octavoor 8vo8166 12 × 1016.5 × 25
Medium octavoor 8vo8166 12 × 9 1416.5 × 23.5
octavoor 8vo8166 × 915 × 23
Crown octavoor 8vo8165 38 × 813.5 × 20
duodecimo or twelvemo12º or 12mo12245 × 7 3812.5 × 19
sextodecimo or sixteenmo16º or 16mo16324 × 6 3410 × 17
octodecimo or eighteenmo18º or 18mo18364 × 6 1210 × 16.5
trigesimo-secundo or thirty-twomo32º or 32mo32643 12 × 5 129 × 14
quadragesimo-octavo or forty-eightmo48º or 48mo48962 12 × 46.5 × 10
sexagesimo-quarto or sixty-fourmo64º or 64mo641282 × 35 × 7.5

United Kingdom

A common paperback size in the UK is B-format. For example, Penguin Classics are in B-format, which is 129 mm × 198 mm (5 18 in × 7 34 in). This contrasts with A-format (110 mm × 178 mm, 4 38 in × 7 in) and C-format (135 mm × 216 mm, 5 38 in × 8 12 in).[15]

Formerly the descriptions octavo, quarto, duodecimo, etc. were used (see table under United States above).


In book construction, Japan uses a mixture of ISO A-series, JIS B-series, and several traditional Japanese paper sizes. A- and B-series signatures are folded from a sheet slightly larger than ISO A1 and JIS B1, respectively, then trimmed to size. The most commonly encountered sizes are listed below.

Book formats and corresponding sizes
NameTranslationLeavesPagesApproximate cover size (width × height)Notes
B4判JIS B481610.1 × 14.325.7 × 36.4Folded from B-series standard sheets (B列本番) measuring 76.5 × 108.5 cm (30.1 × 42.7 in)
A4判ISO A48168.27 × 11.721 × 29.7Folded from A-series standard sheets (A列本番) measuring 62.5 × 88 cm (24.6 × 34.6 in)
AB判AB16328.27 × 10.121 × 25.7Has the width of ISO A4 and height of JIS B5
B5判JIS B516327.2 × 10.118.2 × 25.7
菊判Kiku ("Chrysanthemum")16325.9 × 8.715 × 22Folded from sheets (also called "kiku") of 63.6 × 93.9 cm (25 × 37 in)
A5判ISO A516325.8 × 8.2714.8 × 21
重箱判Jūbako ("Tiered Box")20407.2 × 8.118.2 × 20.6Name refers to squarish shape.
Folded from B-series standard sheets, yielding 8 more pages than JIS B5.
四六判Shi-Roku ("4 × 6")32645 × 7.412.7 × 18.8Name refers to approximate dimensions in sun;
folded from sheets of 78.8 × 109.1 cm (31 × 43 in)
B6判JIS B632645 × 7.212.8 × 18.2
新書判 / B40判"Shinsho" ("Old Book") / "B40"40804.1 × 7.210.3 × 18.2Half the size of Jūbako. Folded from B-series standard sheets, yielding 16 more pages than JIS B6.
An informal, de facto standard, with some variation in finished sizes between publishers.
小B6判"Small JIS B6"32644.4 × 6.911.2 × 17.4Some publishers' "Shinsho" dimensions are closer to this size.
A6判ISO A632644.1 × 5.810.5 × 14.8Size used for Bunkobon (small-format paperbacks)
三五判San-Go ("3 × 5")40803.3 × 5.88.4 × 14.8Name refers to approximate dimensions in sun;
folded from A-series standard sheets, yielding 16 more pages than A6.

See also


  1. Cf. Bowers,[6]:429–430 suggesting that a book with eight leaves per gathering where the format cannot be determined should be referred to as in 8s and not octavo.


  1. Thompson, Elizabeth Hardy, ed. (1943). ALA Glossary of Library Terms, with a selection of terms in related fields. American Library Association. p. 151. ISBN 9780838900000.
  2. Roberts, Matt; Etherington, Don (1982). "Book sizes". Bookbinding and the conservation of books: a dictionary of descriptive terminology. Library of Congress. ISBN 9780844403663. Retrieved 2014-09-10 via Conservation OnLine, operated by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
  3. Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1989.
  4. Gaskell, Philip (1972). A New Introduction to Bibliography (1st ed.). Clarendon Press.
  5. McKerrow, Ronald Brunlees (1927). McKitterick, David (ed.). An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Clarendon Press.
  6. Bowers, Fredson (1949). Principles of Bibliographical Description (1st ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  7. Associated Press (2003-12-16). "Guinness: Scientist creates world's largest book". CNN. Archived from the original on 2007-05-22. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  8. "Largest book published". Guinness World Records.
  9. "Largest book". Guinness World Records.
  10. "Smallest reproduction of a printed book". Guinness World Records.
  11. Ringwalt, John Luther, ed. (1871). "Dimensions of Paper". American Encyclopaedia of Printing. Philadelphia: Menamin&Ringwald. pp. 139–140.
  12. Savage, William (1841). "Paper". A Dictionary of the Art of Printing. New York: Burt Franklin. pp. 560–566.
  13. Levine-Clark, Michael; Carter, Toni M., eds. (2013). ALA glossary of library and information science (4th ed.). Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association. p. 38. ISBN 9780838911112.
  14. Ambrose, Gavin; Harris, Paul (2015). The Layout Book (2nd ed.). Bloomsbury. pp. 76–77.
  15. Wilson-Fletcher, Honor (11 August 2001). "The importance of format and feel". the Guardian. Retrieved 6 April 2019.

Further reading

A number of imposition schemes for different formats may be found in:

Additional tables and discussion of American book formats and sizes may be found in:

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